Cities fire back in Gwinnett services dispute

"We made many, many attempts at many proposals and basically didn't get much response back," said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, president of the Gwinnett Municipal Association.

Johnson's remarks came in response to comments made Tuesday by Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charles Bannister, who implied the cities could harm residents by insisting that state sanctions be leveled against both sides for failing to reach a settlement.

The state-mandated plan that is the subject of the dispute is designed to guard against duplication of services between counties and their cities. It has been in mediation since the old agreement expired last March. Cities and counties without a services agreement are ineligible for state grants and permits, a penalty that could cost both sides millions.

The penalties have been held in abeyance, but this month the judge overseeing mediation put his foot down to encourage more robust talks. Judge David E. Barrett, in response to a motion by the cities, has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 18 to decide whether to hold the state Department of Community Affairs in contempt for not enforcing the penalties by his Feb. 1 deadline. The DCA says it only institutes the penalties three times a year, the soonest being Feb. 28.

About a dozen officials from eight cities joined Johnson for the Thursday news conference in Lawrenceville.

"We talk, but it doesn't get anywhere," said Buford Commission Chairman Phillip Beard.

Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said he is frustrated because the county has ignored or stalled on nearly every proposal.

"We need to get this done," he said.

"The county's strategy to delay a resolution results in continued taxation of city businesses and residences for services they are not receiving and wastes tax funds of all Gwinnett County taxpayers to pay for litigation," Johnson said.

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